Police used brutal force on a peaceful rally, MPs say

Two United National Party (UNP) Members of Parliament told the Supreme Court that they were injured when police officers “brutally” attacked a crowd conducting a peaceful protest against the high cost of living.

The two petitioners, Dr. Jayalath Jayawardane and Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, said the police action was unlawful and that the use of force and tear gas was excessive.

The sharp increase of fuel prices, including petrol, diesel and kerosene, had had a direct impact on the cost of living, the UNP Parliamentarians said, and had put an extra burden on all Sri Lankans, especially low-income families. On February 17, 2012, a crowd of some 5,000 persons gathered in front of the Fort Railway Station.

Among them were Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, along with Dr. Jayawardane and Mr. Kariyawasam, and other MPs from various political parties. Others joining in the protest included Democratic Front leader Mano Ganeshan, New Left Front leader Dr. Wickramabahu Karunaratne, Tissa Attanayake, Lakshman Kiriella, Mangala Samaraweera, Palitha Thevarapperuma, Karu Jayasuriya, Dr. Harsha de Silva, Rosy Senanayake, Eran Wickremaratne, Harin Fernando, M. A. Sumanthiran and Suresh Premachandran.

The crowd carried placards and banners shouted slogans. The Opposition leader and other party leaders addressed the crowd from the back of a vehicle.

Meanwhile, the police had put up steel barriers were armed with iron rods and guns. The protest ended at about 5.30 pm, and the crowd was about to disperse when the police without warning fired a number of teargas canisters at the crowd. The police also used water cannon.

On February 27, 2012, the government held a protest in front of the Fort Railway Station, to condemn an “international conspiracy” against the country. On this occasion, the police officers provided security for the protesters.

The Petitioners specifically stated that their fundamental right to freedom of peaceful assembly could not be legitimately curtailed by the 1st Respondent and Police officers acting under him, since there was no threat to racial and religious harmony and therefore, the unlawful obstruction of the same is contrary to Article 14(1) (b) read with Articles 15(3) & 15(7).

Ronald Perera, Naleen Amarageewa and Indula Hewage instructed by Samararatne Associates settled the petition.

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